Future Razorbacks

In his weekly column, Dudley E. Dawson talks about Arkansas' spectacular recruiting finish and UA head coach John Pelphrey raves about his six new signees. This story is sponsored by the Arkansas Toyota Dealers. It's free and so is a special offer to attend a Razorback event on the Arkansas Toyota Dealers website. Click on a banner for details.

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Talk about your big-time closer.

University of Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey and his staff closed the book on a sparkling six-player November early signing period class with a flourish on Wednesday night.

Not only did Pelphrey scoop up Oklahoma prep guard Rotnei Clarke (6-1, 180) – perhaps the class of 2008's best shooter – but landed Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College small forward Daniel Payne (6-7, 210) in the final minutes of the week-long period.

Payne, regarded as the nation's best junior college player by the The Sporting News, became the sixth Razorback early signee when sent in his fax to the UA right before the midnight deadline.

"Everything about Arkansas was just so right for me that there was no use in waiting until the spring," said Payne, who chose Arkansas over Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M and Wichita State. "I like their style of play and Coach Pelphrey and (UA assistant) Coach (Isaac) Brown are cool."

Payne, originally from South Bend, Ind., and Clarke join a class that also includes point guard Courtney Fortson (5-11, 175) of The Patterson (N.C.) School, the Genesis One duo of forward Andre Clarke (6-10, 205) and guard Terrance Joyner (6-2, 180) and New Orleans (La.) Holy Corss forward Brandon Moore (6-9, 215).

"We're excited about this class," Pelphrey said. "Our assistants did a very good job getting us involved with some players who are high-character guys.

"This is an important class because of what we are losing," Pelphrey continued. "All of them have a chance to make an immediate impact their first year. We talked about that during the recruiting process."

Arkansas is losing six seniors off of this season's roster and Pelphrey plans to add another signee this spring.

"We're not losing guys at just one position," Pelphrey said. "We need point guard play and wing play, we need to improve our shooting and we only have one small forward in the program. We needed to address those areas plus we're losing four quality front court players. We still need to add someone to the frontcourt. We'll work on that in the next recruiting period."

Clarke – who averaged 37.6 points per game as a junior and is on pace to be the state of Oklahoma's leading career scorer, faxed in his letter-of-intent Wednesday afternoon and then publicly announced his choice on Tulsa TV station KTUL during its 10 p.m. newscast.

He chose Arkansas over ORU, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Gonzaga from a list of other 30 offers.

"It was a tough decision but I knew that I would feel at peace at some point and that is why I waited so long," noted Clarke, who became sure of his decision last Saturday. "I finally did, I made the decision and it feels so right. Arkansas is a great place for me and I am very excited about it."

Clarke scored a career-high 60 points in his last game as a junior.

"Rotnei is a young man who our entire staff felt strongly about as a player, student and person," Pelphrey said. "He's received tremendous respect from across the country for his talents and how hard he plays.

"Because he lives so close to us there is already a familiarity to our fans," Pelphrey added. "He is one of the premier shooters in high school basketball. I would say he is one of the top three or four I've ever had the chance to be around, but he is much more that that. He is a playmaker and really excels in transition. He's a great addition to our team."

Payne had debated on waiting until the spring. Pelphrey is glad he didn't.

"Daniel is a very highly rated junior college player, arguably a top five player in the country depending on who you talk to," Pelphrey said. "He has a chance to play significant minutes from day one with the loss of Sonny (Weems).

"Daniel has unique abilities," Pelphrey added. "He is a talented offensive player as well as a very good defensive player. He is a high energy guy who is very serious about working hard and winning which helps him be a leader."

Fortson will be a true point guard and is someone Pelphrey has been familiar with since the prospect was playing high school ball in Alabama.

"I had the opportunity to watch Courtney play the last several years while we were at South Alabama," Pelphrey said. "He is a winner. He won one high school state championship and played for another.

"He has a toughness about him that I think is really needed at the position," Pelphrey added. "He not only excels on the offensive end as a great penetrator, finisher and distributor, but he also excels on the defensive end and is a playmaker on that end of the floor as well. Courtney's heart and effort, with regards to winning, have never been questioned."

Andre Clarke was a solid player at North Little Rock that turned into a spectacular one on the AAU circuit this summer.

"Andre is an Arkansas kid that loves the Razorbacks," Pelphrey said. "He is a very versatile and talented frontcourt player. He has small forward skills in that he is able to step out and shoot it as well as play inside. It is important in our style of play to have someone who can score around the basket and step outside and Andre gives us that versatility.

"His upside is tremendous," Pelphrey continued. "It's important that we keep the best players in Arkansas home and he is certainly one of the best players in Arkansas."

Joyner, a Los Angeles native, was the first to commit and the first to sign of the six.

"Terrance is a talented backcourt player," Pelphrey said. "He's a good driver and distributor who is improving from the 3-point line. He can also be a disruptive force on the defensive end because of his size and quickness. He has a great personality and will fit in with the team environment at Arkansas very well."

Moore moved to Little Rock after Hurricane Katrina and will be back for his college days.

"Brandon is a long, athletic front court player who has a very big upside," Pelphrey said. "He can score around ther basket and finish on the break. He is going to get better with his ballhandling and his perimeter skills as he gets older.

"Maybe more than anybody else in this class, he has great versatility on the defensive end of the floor. He can guard on the perimeter and around the block. Because he was a Hurricane Katrina victim and spent some time in Little Rock, he has an affection for the Razorbacks."

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